Barn Show

Return to Fir Island


What: "The Barn Show"

Where: Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner


WHEN: 12pm-4pm Thurs.-Sun.

Cost: Entry is free


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The “Barn Shows,” an annual Fir Island event from 1987 to 2003, featured works by Skagit Valley artists. Many lived between river and tides, catching salmon for supper, collecting driftwood for fuel and earning a meager living at manual work.

John Simon was the spark plug. He had been living in Lavone Newell’s barn since 1979 and suggested she host art shows there, too. He intended them as a counterweight to the “New Wave, punk and satire” of big-city artists and to be “an exploration of nature and the human condition.”

Newell recently put together a history of the Barn Shows, inspiring a retrospective at the Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner.

Welcoming the visitor into the gallery are Simon’s painted sculptures, “Forestals.” Opposite is the the deep-red canvas of Newell’s dramatic “Rejuvination.”

It’s common to hear that sculptors “find” shapes waiting to be discovered in stones or wood. If that’s so, Leo Osborne’s carving, “Song of the Pacific,” (1992) liberates eagle and salmon concealed within a maple burl, while next to them, he unmasks a secret madonna in a madrone.

Kevin Paul was already a well-known wood carver when he was invited to participate. For Paul, “Every year was like being part of a family.” Another sculptor now well-known is Tracy Powell, whose gentle and love-filled stone works are found in public spaces all over Western Washington.

Clayton James’ creative life was long. He championed and mentored many younger artists and reinvented his art, from carving to sculpture to pottery and back to painting. His “Oval Eye” (fired clay) and “Gold Bar” (tempera on linen), are refined statements of abstract expressionism.

From the beginning, Anne Martin McCool’s mystical expression was in full bloom, often displaying circular images representing moon and sun, Earth’s horizon and day and night. Like a work by Max Benjamin, you recognize McCool’s style immediately.

Benjamin is represented in the show by his “Kent State” painting, one uncharacteristically programmatic for him. (In related news, I’m looking forward to his one-man retrospective at MoNA, which opens in late January.)

Ed Kamuda’s arresting abstractions fill a wall in the Glass Gallery. He turned up in La Conner, a young kid who had never taken an art class. Encouraged by Guy Anderson and Clayton James, he grew to show his work in Seattle galleries, received a solo exhibition at MoNA and recently, and a retrospective at i.e. gallery in Edison.

Larry (Charles Lauren) Heald’s playful, illusionist style is exhibited in the “Expressionist’s Table” and the fascinating “Island Hopping,” where an island is inside a museum, open to the night sky.

Dederick Ward joined the group in the 1995 show. His “Sucia” and “Clear-cut” both arise from an early fascination with the Earth, which initially took him into the field of geology.

In the “Barn Shows” from the beginning, no one lived out the gritty experience of the artist more than Maggie Wilder, longtime curator of Gallery Cygnus and the last resident of Fishtown.

Her creative process begins, “When dusk arrives…a small shy creature comes out [and] images emerge.” Perhaps she was drawn to sensuous depictions of rich desserts and ripe fruit (“Pears Longing,”) because there were so many lean years.

More ...
Coming Attractions
Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

During last year’s Whatcom Artist Studio Tour, my perennial plus-one and I spent a blue-sky Sunday afternoon popping our heads into a number of studios in Bellingham’s Sunnyland neighborhood and surrounding environs. We got a close look at the creative spaces of a number of painters,…

more »
Fund the Future
The art of adaptation

For the Museum of Northwest Art, 2020 was destined to be one for the books. In January, the longtime La Conner-based creative hub on First Street was operating in the black for the first time in a long time, and its mission was intact to collect, preserve, interpret and exhibit arts created…

more »
Visions for a better future

The first time David Syre was quarantined, he was 4 years old and had been diagnosed with polio—a debilitating disease from which he eventually recovered, although he first had to relearn how to walk.

More than 70 years later, a global pandemic necessitated another forced quarantine for…

more »